Community Chest kicks off 2020 campaign

Grant-funding organization helps nonprofits that benefit Camas-Washougal families

Family Promise of Clark County Director Linda Winnett (right) shows Camas-Washougal Community Chest President Joelle Scheldorf (left) the children's play area and kitchen inside the Family Promise day center for homeless families at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Camas on Thursday, Sept. 26. (Photos by Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

A children's area outside the Family Promise of Clark County's day center at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Camas provides toys and a covered outdoor play area for families enrolled in the local Family Promise program, which strives to help families experiencing homelessness secure stable employment and long-term housing.

Camas-Washougal Community Chest President Joelle Scheldorf

The Camas-Washougal Community Chest is edging closer to its 75th birthday, but the local grant-funding organization shows few signs of slowing down.

In fact, numbers from the group’s 2019 campaign show the Community Chest collected $108,500 in personal and corporate donations last year and funded 29 grants that served local, at-risk youth, helped Camas-Washougal residents in need and highlighted the importance of natural resource conservation.

This week, the Community Chest launched its fundraising campaign for its 2020 grants.

Joelle Scheldorf, the new president of the Community Chest, said the grant-funding organization’s leaders had feared a downturn in donations after the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Camas announced major layoffs in 2017, but that the 2019 fundraising cycle proved just as robust — if not more so — as in previous years.

Georgia-Pacific still donated $10,000 to the group in 2019, and paper mill employees continued to give through pre-tax deductions. The group also gained a few more employee groups that were willing to donate to the Community Chest on a “per paycheck” basis, including public city and school district employees in Camas and Washougal. Individual donations also were up in 2019, but Scheldorf said the organization’s leaders haven’t yet figured out what made the difference.

“We’re always analyzing data and trying to figure it out,” Scheldorf said. “We did try to increase our community exposure … but we haven’t done anything too different.”

In fact, the Community Chest, which started in 1946, has operated much like it has for more than seven decades — relying on an all-volunteer board, funding nonprofits that directly benefit Camas-Washougal residents and keeping its overhead costs so low that more than 98 percent of donations go straight to the grants.

Scheldorf, who served as the organization’s vice president for the past three years before being named president earlier this year, said she would like to see the organization continue to grow.

“If something happens and we lose (Georgia-Pacific), then we would want to maintain (our current level of grant-funding),” she said.

Inspired by her mother, Jeane Moksness, who specialized in early childhood development and knew how hard it was for many working parents to make ends meet, Scheldorf said she felt drawn to the Community Chest’s model of distributing locally collected donations to nonprofits that best help community members in need.

The new Community Chest president is a chemical engineer who grew up in Longview, Washington, and now lives in Camas with her husband, Jay, and their son, a senior at Camas High. The couple’s daughter recently graduated from Western Washington University.

The Community Chest, she said, is grateful for its recent growth in donations and donors, and looking forward to continuing its legacy of funding local nonprofit projects and programs.

“We are grateful for the partnerships we have, and to the community’s response to our (fundraising campaign),” she said. “And we’re looking forward to the future.”

Major supporters of the Community Chest’s 2019 fundraising campaign included Georgia-Pacific employees, the Georgia-Pacific Foundation, HP employees and the HP Corporation, Camas School District employees, city of Camas employees, Port of Camas-Washougal employees, 54-40 Brewing Company, Exterior Wood, Your Party Center, Windermere Foundation and the IQ for Kids fund. Dutch Bros in Camas donated opening-day proceeds to the Community Chest.

To reach its $100,000 goal for the 2020 campaign, the Community Chest needs donations from individuals and businesses in Camas and Washougal. More information and donation forms can be found online at CamasWashougalCommunityChest.org. Individuals and businesses can also donate by participating in Fred Meyer’s Community Rewards program and Amazon’s Smile program.

“Giving to the Community Chest is an easy and efficient way to help people in need in our hometown,” Scheldorf said.

Local non-profit organizations planning to apply for a grant can download the 2020 application form from the Community Chest’s website after Oct. 15. Grant applications are due by Dec. 15, and applicants will be informed if their project has or has not been funded by the end of March 2020.

Family Promise shows power of organization’s grants

One of the Community Chest’s more recent grant recipients, Family Promise of Clark County, recently showed the power of receiving a Community Chest grant.

In 2019, the Community Chest awarded a grant of $11,250 to Family Promise, a group that helps homeless families with children find stable employment and housing. The interfaith Family Promise group used the money to help fund a part-time case manager.

Since opening its Camas-based day center for families experiencing homelessness at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church on March 31, Family Promise has had five of its eight families graduate from the program.

That means at least one of the family heads has been able to find employment or a better job and that the family has found stable housing.

“Our first graduate was a single father of a 3-year-old son,” Family Promise of Clark County Director Linda Winnett said. “They had been living in their car before coming into the program. Within the first week, the dad had secured employment and made day care arrangements for his son.”

The dad continued to make plans to secure a better future for his son, Winnett said, enrolling the boy in a Head Start program and working with Viktoriya Kovalenko, the Family Promise case manager, to find a one-bedroom apartment he could afford.

“He gave the bedroom to his son because he’d never had his own room,” Winnett said.

Before coming into the Family Promise program, these families had been couch-surfing with friends and relatives, sleeping in their vehicles or, for at least one of the families, sleeping on the streets.

At Family Promise, the families have a safe place to stay at night inside one of the 10 churches that have opened their doors to the program and are able to access the Camas day center, which has laundry and shower facilities, play areas for the children, phones, living room furniture and a computer station, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Winnett said the housing crisis in Clark County shows no signs of slowing.

“There is a lack of affordable housing in the nation and in Clark County,” Winnett told the Post-Record in March. “The difference between what you can earn and the costs of housing — and not just housing but everything you need in addition to housing — exceed the wages we’re earning as new and young families. All it takes is one major expense, a car repair or dental or medical bill, and it tips the scale.”

A national program, Family Promise has proven successful to breaking down barriers that keep families from finding and keeping long-term housing.

As she wrote in an update letter to the Community Chest, Winnett explained that Family Promise is able to free families from the constant “worry about how to find a safe place to sleep” and allows them to save money to secure housing.

Kovalenko, the group’s case manager, said the costs of finding housing in Southwest can be astronomical for families, even for those who are working full-time.

“Some places want first, last and two months’ deposit,” she said. “It can be thousands of dollars to move into an apartment.”

Family Promise offers families a chance to regroup and save money. They have a safe space to spend the night, a “home base” during the daytime at the Camas day center and meals provided by the partner churches.

Still, there are challenges for many of Family Promise families. Transportation has proven problematic for some of the families in the program, Winnett said. Some of the people working swing and night shifts have found it challenging to get back to the day center after their shift ends, since buses don’t run to Camas as regularly as they do to parts of Vancouver. One of the Family Promise clients had to sleep on a bus bench after working a full shift while waiting for the first bus of the day to take them to Camas. Other night-shift workers have found it challenging to sleep at the day center, which often is filled with families who have babies, toddlers or very young children.

Despite a few snags to work out — mostly with the transportation issues — Winnett said she is pleased by the program’s success rate.

“We are grateful to Camas-Washougal Community Chest for providing us with the funding resources to add a staff member to cover case management responsibilities for the program,” Winnett said. “We believe the funding was instrumental to the program’s success in graduating families so soon after opening our doors.”

The case manager also is able to provide “after care” to families for a year once they’ve graduated from the program, to help ensure the families have long-term success.

Community members hoping to help the new Family Promise of Clark County program even more, should visit familypromiseofclarkco.org to see the program’s “wish list” of items for donation — baby diapers and bicycles and helmets for parents are a few of the things that would make life easier at the Family Promise day center — and to view volunteer opportunities, including weekend day center assistants and Family Promise van drivers.